I wrote this piece 20 years ago, very shortly, really right after the Thomas-Hill hearings had happened. I supported myself for the first ten years I lived in New York as an office temp, working mostly in law office. It was a kind of a wildly split existence – all my days were spent in these midtown offices and every night and weekend I was working in a lesbian collective theater in the East Village. I was clearly a misfit in these office settings. Patricia Williams, in her beautiful introduction of Anita Hill this afternoon was talking about the power suits of the 80’s and the tension around the professional dress code for women – the question of what was appropriate. I was definitely neither professional nor appropriate in the way I dressed for my office jobs. I was always being spoken to about it. I think I thought I was being rebellious but in retrospect I was actually just contrary. Also, I was always trying to get these women outraged about the things I found outrageous in these office hierarches – for instance – I don’t know if it’s still like this now, I assume it’s not – but when I was working in these offices a secretary’s salary base based on the status of the lawyer she worked for. So a partner’s secretary would automatically make more money than an associate’s. And I was always trying to organize the secretaries around this and they were always looking at me like, what are you talking about?? So they thought I was strange and I thought they were strange – I was recently out of the Midwest and the manner and language of these ladies from Long Island and New Jersey was just completely exotic and delicious to me. And so, between me and these women there were a million tiny cultural disconnects and a kind of mutual fascination. And this is where I was when the Thomas-Hill hearings happened. I was moving between my very politicized nights and weekends with the lesbians into these days filled with a kind of reflexive skepticism about Anita Hill and her story. And I wondered about what was at stake in believing this story – and things looked like from the other side of this cultural divide. And so I wrote this monologue. The character is a secretary. I pictured her at the time to be an “older” secretary and I realized I pictured her about the age I am now. And she’s sitting in a mid-town salad bar lunch place. And another secretary has just asked if she can sit in the empty seat next to her.
What? Oh yeah. Of course. Sit, sit, sit, sit sit. [-] This? Tortellini? [-] It’s nice. Yeah, it’s a nice salad bar. I don’t usually come out for lunch [-] Have I been what? Oh, my god, the hearings!! Of course I’m watching, you can’t get away from it! [---] Listen, you’re not going to get any argument from me on that! I agree! It’s a mess! The whole thing is a mess! [--] What? Yeah, I work around the corner at Bochner, Stiffner and Krinsky. I work for Mr. Krinsky. [-] He’s a partner –Yeah, he’s a partner – Of course, I get compensated accordingly. Some of the one’s now, they don’t agree with that. One of the temps – I don’t know her name – I make it my business never to learn the names of the temps – I call them all Cathy. If I need to talk to one I say, Hey, you, Cathy – And
when she tells me her name and I say, Oh, I don’t know. The last girl’s name was Cathy. These temps come in off the street and they act like they own the place. You’re out a day with the flu and when you come back every little thing on your desk is in a different place – Why? Why is that? Why do they have to touch everything? My three-hole punch! I use my three-hole maybe three times a year – a temp is there for one day – it’s in a completely different place and all jammed up with the paper – where was I? – Oh – So one day I walk into the lunch room and, this temp is holding forth – Lord knows how she got started – but she’s holding forth about how all secretaries should be paid the same or some other such bullcrap and I thought I was going to blow my top. I mean, if she knows so much about how things are supposed to work how come she can’t get a job of her own and she has to travel from office to office dressed like a… like a… circus… hobo. These people come in from the outside thinking they know all about you and how you are supposed to want things to be but I’ll tell you Mr. Krinsky is not easy. He is not easy and he is lucky to have me and I deserve to be paid accordingly and that’s that. That’s all I have to say about that.
What were we…? Oh right, the hearings. Listen, I have never worked for a woman, but I have seen these woman attorneys for years. My best girlfriend, Eileen, from the old firm, she worked for this woman for a while — The stories Eileen told me – and, of course, I saw it. I saw how she was. She was driven. That woman worked like a dog and she worked Eileen like a horse and a dog. She was high-powered, that one, with the Chanel suits and the this and the that. She was–You know what she was like? She was like that Rosilind Chaise on the LA Law. And the personal things! Dry cleaning! She wanted Eileen to pick up her dry cleaning. Now, you know, the men give you that stuff a lot. Mr, Krinsky? I balance his daughter’s checkbook, for gods sake. Look, I don’t mind. If I did, I would tell him. But the point is – the men don’t know any better. But the women? They should know. Eileen did it. She did it. But when another spot opened up she told the administrator that she wanted it or she was leaving and they moved her. They didn’t want to lose her. But they went through a lot of temps before they got someone else to work for that woman because people looked and her and they knew. They knew what she was like and they did not want to deal with that. You saw
that senator, right? Who was saying about all those people who wrote to him, people who had worked for that… Anita, wrote to him saying “don’t believe the act.” See? This is the kind of person, this is the kind of person I’m talking about. She didn’t want to lose her job, she was so dedicated to her career. And these women lawyers can work over a secretary until she is so much dust on the carpet and you’re going to tell me that one couldn’t tell this man where to go with his can of coke and his pubic hair, I don’t think so.
Oh my god. In our office people are worked up into a lather over this… mess. It’s like a pressure cooker atmosphere. And, this on top of we’re having one of those virus things on the computer – have you had this? Every time you put a disk into the machine all of a sudden with beeping and the flashing. MaryAnne who sits next to me, this morning her machine went off–she nearly had a heart attack, literally, a heart attack! And I got up and I walked all the way around the partition. I said MaryAnne, press the P to proceed. P. P. P. P to proceed. Do something, hit something, for godssake put yourself out of your misery. And she’s there with her hands up like paws or something and I said, MaryAnne what is wrong with you? And she says to me, “I don’t want to catch the virus from the computer.” And I said, tell Mr. Krinsky I’m going to lunch. I’d said I was going to work through but by that time I’d had it.
I went downstairs to the cafeteria—yeah, we have a cafeteria for the employees. It’s nice – it’s a little expens – It’s nice. And I got a nice stirfry. And I sat. I said Mr. Krinsky is not going to die if he has to answer the phone for 15 minutes while I eat a lunch in peace. And I was doing the breathing – have you done this? I saw it on Channel 13. The deep breathing, the visualization, the colors, the waves the beach, thing. I don’t go overboard with it. Some of people, it’s like a cult or something. I don’t go overboard. I like to keep an open mind. Whatever. So here I am with my lunch and my blue bubble of serenity and the conversation next to me is getting louder and louder with these women going on and on and on about the hearings. And I think, my god, can I not I have one minute to eat a lunch in peace? I threw the whole plate in the garbage, I went to Duane Reade, I bought a moisturizer. I came here and got the tortellini.
It’s disgusting. Seeing these people’s dirty laundry aired out in public like that. Those senators are disgusting – all of them, democrat, republican, I don’t care, they’re disgusting pigs. At least that Ted Kennedy knows what a disgusting pig he is. You cab see he is not looking forward to the mini-series on him. Listen, I shouldn’t judge. One brother shot, another brother shot. Probably, maybe, he thought, I’m next, I might as well have some fun, I don’t know. And then with the son, with the leg. God bless him. God bless him. My point is you watch those hearings you can tell he knows those hearings don’t belong on TV. What happened was private, between two people. Why is she doing this? Maybe, I don’t know, I think maybe she was in love with him. Why is she doing this? She has a good career, teaching at that school. And I’ll tell you I get sick of the whining that these girls do now about the this and the that and they want everything handed to them and they are spoiled, these girls, and yet they complain and complain and I don’t know why. I think… I think it makes them feel special. I don’t know. I think they like the attention? I don’t know. Life is not easy for anybody and… they’re so shocked when bad things happen. And when you’re young, things happen! And you don’t know how to… You can’t say… When you’re young you don’t know how to say, “Zip that up, put that away… don’t… touch me like that.” Look, things… happen…. to people. And they feel – yes, you feel bad at the time — but you can’t take away what’s done and you can’t make a mess in the place where you live. And so you move on. You move on. That girl, that temp, in an office for few days, for a week – I think it does not occur to her that you cannot make a big mess in the place where you have to live. Oh my god, don’t get me started. Do not get me started on the temps. Oh my god, look at the time! I’ve gotta get back before Mr. Krinsky has a conniption fit.
It was nice talking to you. By the way, I like that jacket on you. Yeah. That’s a very flattering style.